Thanks for the awesome show of support so far and welcome to the 5 Drs’ first post. In this post we discuss the importance of the Pap smear!
Just the mention of the words ‘Pap smear’ can make even the boldest of women cross her legs in discomfort. This is especially true if you haven’t had one before. So why is it so important to subject yourself to something which is uncomfortable and frankly a little embarrassing?
The Pap smear was named after Georgios Papanicolaou (a greek cytologist, also known as a person who specialises in the study of cells). It is a cervical ‘screening test’ which has been described in the media as ‘a little awkward for a lot of peace of mind.’
‘What is a screening test and why do I need it?’ I hear you say.
Well, a screening test allows for us to detect a medical condition at a very early stage, usually before any symptoms arise and while treatment is still effective. Cervical cancer is one of the cancers that we can screen for by catching it when it is in its very early stages. Getting a regular Pap smear can prevent about 9 out of 10 cervical cancers. Unfortunately most women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer have not had regular Pap smears.
The test itself is usually really quick. It involves a doctor or nurse inserting a speculum (which may look like a medieval torture device but shouldn’t feel like one) and taking a swab of the cervix (the lower part of the uterus). These cells are then assessed by a laboratory for any abnormal changes, which if left untreated could potentially lead to cancer.
If any abnormal changes are found then your doctor will guide you about the possible options for treatment.
Who needs a Pap smear?
If you are a woman aged between 18 – 70 and have been sexually active you should have a Pap smear every 2 years. You should also aim to have your Pap smear 1 to 2 years after your first sexual activity.
In Victoria between 2011 – 2012 our rates of screening were only 60%. This means that almost half of the women who should be having the test are not having it. There could be a number of reasons for this and some of them may revolve around fear of the test or lack of understanding about why this test is necessary. We hope that this post could outline some key points as to why the Pap smear is really important.
Please also visit: http://www.papscreen.org.au/
There are lots of great resources for women and a detailed explanation of what to expect on the day.